A statement issued by the Vatican this week caught the attention of many members of Arkansas Catholic and LGBT communities. While it does not reflect an official change in the church’s position on gay marriage or homosexuality, the language used was viewed by many as a positive step.
The “working document” is the mid-point summary of conversations by a worldwide gathering of bishops. In it, gay people are said to have “gifts to offer” and should be viewed compassionately.
Kendra Johnson, Arkansas director of the Human Rights Campaign, views the comments as significant for the and one that is reflective of the general population. Her group advocates for equal rights and acceptance of gays, lesbians, transgender and bisexuals.
“I believe that it’s definitely a dramatic shift in the church’s tone with regards to LGBT people. It is a positive, great first step validating loving and affirming relationships,” Johnson said.
Jerry Cox is executive director of the Arkansas Family Council based in Little Rock, a conservative organization which pushed for the ban on same-sex marriage a decade ago. The Arkansas Supreme Court is considering the matter after the constitutional amendment was struck down by a Pulaski County judge earlier this year.
Cox said he doesn’t believe the church’s action will have much influence here.
“Well, if the Catholic Church were to change its position on this, or any other moral issue, I don’t believe it would have very much impact at all on a state like Arkansas. This is neither good nor bad, but most people in Arkansas are Protestant.”
He believes most Arkansans remain opposed to same-sex marriage.
“These are deeply held convictions, mostly based on a person’s religious beliefs, and a Pope or a President, or any other leader is not going to be able to change that," Cox said.
Leadership from the local Catholic Church did not respond to requests for comment.
Coincidentally this issue is being raised on the anniversary of the marriage and firing of Little Rock educator Tippi McCollough. A year ago she was fired from Mount St. Mary Academy, an all-girls Catholic School in Little Rock, on the day she and her partner traveled to New Mexico to be legally wed. She praises the changes being communicated from the Vatican.
“I would say that I’m hopeful and cautiously optimistic about what’s coming out of the Vatican. I do believe that Pope Francis seems to be a holy man, a wise man.”
McCollough says she hopes what’s being considered by the church will lead to firm policies that protect LGBT people within catholic schools and organizations.